Discount Gambling

Self-Bar @ Sycuan Casino, CA

Posted in spanish21, sycuan by stephenhow on July 12, 2009

Finally, after years of low-limit, “advantage-play”, life-in-a-casino degeneracy, I figured out the ultimate way to beat the casino this afternoon.

Of course, the story starts off that I was minding my own business, playing $5 Spanish 21 in pit 3 (non-smoking) at my nearby Sycuan Casino. I’d been doing this every weekend since I started this blog 5 months ago. I’d already played 10 hours for the weekend, which would likely total up to 20+ hours by Sunday night. Like clockwork, I’d also been toking out $10 per hour, giving each dealer $3 or $4 in $1 chips at the beginning of their push, and letting them play it anyway they wanted to.

I played at Sycuan an average of 4 days a week, for 30-40 hours a week, losing an average of $2/hr, plus toking out $10/hr to the dealers. So it cost me about $400/week, but I considered it cheap entertainment. The casino won $70/week from me, but they threw me about $10/week in loyalty rewards, and another $20-$30/week in food comps. So, my net donation to the casino was about $35/week, or $1/hr. However, there was no getting around the $350/week in dealer tokes ($10/hr). I was there for the socialization, and I wanted to treat the dealers fairly for standing up, dealing 400 hands/hr, putting up with the Idiots who somehow find it eminently reasonable to blame the dealer for their losing the rent money on their bad decisions, like playing with it in the first place.  And the casino forces them to be nice to the Morons, by spying on them with secret shoppers, even though they need to be nice to customers to make a living anyways (their paychecks are essentialy $0 after taxes, benefit deductions, and 401k).

In the thousand hours I sat playing Spanish 21 @ Sycuan, I never found a single player that employed basic strategy, or for that matter logical thought, to their gambling.  All my publishing of the odds, and my practical examples of 21 hour straight sessions, sometimes coming out ahead, could not convince people to hit a 14 against a dealer 2 or 3, or even to hit a 13 against a dealer 5.  Instead, I’d see the same thing that the dealers see every day.  People actually trying to figure out what the next card coming out of the shoe would be, or trying to figure out what the dealer down card was.  E.g., they say “she (the dealer) doesn’t have it”, and they stay on 15 against a dealer 9.  Or they think the dealer “has it”, and they surrender.  They clearly know they won’t improve their hand by hitting.

So anyways, I see this crazy behaviour every day, the way the players blame the dealer for drawing to 20, or 21, or otherwise not busting.  They anthropomorphize the cards coming out of the shoe as being controlled by the dealer, or the dealer’s properties at the time.  “The dealer is hot.  I’m going to sit out a few hands.”  Or, “the dealer isn’t busting”.  But while I enjoyed watching all of this (ok, I felt better about myself when I was playing with these people), I found out that the anger the losing players throw at the dealers ends up being rather hurtful, no matter how experienced the dealer is at handling it.  I think a particularly hateful way to treat the dealer is to sarcastically blame them for the losing hands, like “of course you make 21 when I have 20”, and disgustingly and dismissively violently gesture at them.  There’s a certain type of personality that ends up doing this when the losses get bad.

Anyways, the dealer has to make a living too, and I could afford to toke, so I do.  As I understand it, they’re taxed on about $18/hr in expected tokes, so for a 6-spot table, this works out to be about $3/hr per person.  Okay, so I toke at 3x the average.  But there’s a lot of people that don’t toke anything, so the average is made up by the people who do.  So since I toked $3-$4 on every down, and I could care less what the outcome of a $5 hand was, and I’d have reasonably intelligent discussions with the dealers about anything other than the game itself, and always had a good time playing, it made me a very good customer from the dealer’s perspective.  And, as they said, “especially in this economy.”

Ok, so finally, here’s the story I’m trying to get to.  No matter how good of a customer you think you are, an occasional moronic floor supervisor will do something completely stupid, and walk over with another floorperson, from another pit in another room, and indiscretely pull you out of your game in front of all the players to warn you about something minor you did in the previous week, or 35 playing hours, and 4 sessions ago.  The floor super told me I couldn’t buy surrenders from people, like I’ve described in my previous post.  I know they told me not to do this.  I refrained from doing it in general.  However, when you’re in the middle of a 21 hour session, in graveyard, and you’ve been friendly with the players for hours, and you’re trying to educate them about the game (i.e., teach them not to over-surrender), it feels like a pretty minor offence. Oh, and did I mention, I toke out $10/hr, win or lose?

So, I got pretty angry when they did this happened to me today.  I was really tired from my 7 hour session that ended at 3am the night before.  I was beside myself that they’d bring up something minor from last week and make a deal out of it.  I didn’t like being treated poorly for all the toking that I go out of my way to do.  I always state that I’m going to lose $1/hr to the house, and spend $10/hr on the dealers.  It’s been my stated policy all the while I’d been putting my 35 hrs/week into the place.

So I got indignant, and sarcastic.  I dismissingly agreed that I shouldn’t do it, and returned to my table, upset.  Everyone wanted to know what the fuss was about, and I said bad things about the way the house was treating the customers.  I told my fellow players that the house treats us poorly, and consider us suckers.  So the floor comes back into the picture, and tells me that if I say anything disparaging about the casino, she’ll bar me from playing.  Then I said, “please, bar me, throw me out”.  She told me just to sit down and play.  But I decided right then and there, that was the last thing I was going to do.  It was clear that I called her bluff, since they were way out of line relative to my good behaviour, as an extremely loyal regular customer.  What casino treats their regular donors like this?!  So she walked away, but I remained agitated.

Now, here’s the best angle to shoot when if you’re upset with the casino.  Threaten them that you’ll officially self-bar yourself.  By law, they have to take you seriously, and they’re all trained how to handle the request, and there’s a formalized procedure for processing it.  And the best part is that it’s irrevocable, except for a complicated appeals process that has to go through a state gaming commission hearing.  If you’re a good regular, the casino does not want to you threaten the nuclear option.  Sign the paper, and they lose revenue.  Do it in front of all the other customers, and it’ll put dangerous ideas in their heads.  Maybe it is a good idea to self-bar yourself from the casino.  I’d probably be better off, and save thousands.

Don’t threaten “I’m never coming back here”.  It doesn’t mean much coming from a degen gambler.  They send you some loyalty rewards in the mail, and you’re back the next day to redeem them.  Sign the “Sycuan Security Self-Exlusion Form”, say for a year, or 5 years, or permanently, and by law, they’ve lost all revenues from you during the exclusion period, or they’re liable for damages and penalties from lawsuits or the state gaming commission.  Thank g*d for consumer protection laws.

After the idea came to my mind, it sounded better and better as I thought it over for 30 seconds.  I asked the floor supervisor in my pit to sign me up.  I could tell he wasn’t happy with my decision, but he had to obey my request. I was going to save countless hours and money, and do something better with my time.  After all, there are 10 other places to gamble in town, and most of them are much nicer than Sycuan.  It was win-win for me.  Why the hell was I toking out so much money in the first place?  That visit from the floor supervisor was a wake up call to me.  Why was I wasting so much time in that casino?  How could I continue donating to a place that scolds you for your loyalty?!  I had no choice but to come to my senses.  I never would have thought of the self-bar unless I had been riled up by the confrontation, and I never would have executed it unless I did it on the spot, half in anger, half in brilliant insight.

They Sycuan staff were very nice as we started the ball rolling on the self-exclusion process.  Security staff came by with the forms, and had me cash out my chips at the table.  I think I’m the only person who enacted a one year self-exclusion from the premises while they were winning.  I won about $35 in my final session, and $45 from the night before.  After coloring-out at the table, security walked me over to the cage to cash out.  I toked the cashier as I put my $336 back in my wallet (I bought in for $300).  We walked outside, and I filled out the self-exclusion form, and they took a picture of me for their files.  Then one of the guards suggested I should cash out whatever cashback I’ve earned on my Club Sycuan loyalty rewards card before they confiscated it.  So, they walked me back into the casino, and in fact, we moved to the front of the line at the Club Sycuan desk.  They swiped my card, verified my picture ID, and filled out a voucher for $35 cashback.  Then security walked me over to the cage again to cash the voucher.  A lady saw my security escort and the voucher, put two and two together, and asked me how much I won (she thought the escort was for some big payout).  I told her it was for $35, and that she should check her card for cashback awards.  The security guard agreed with me, and told her that you never know what you might have accumulated.  We didn’t tell her that I was being escorted out of the building, for good.

I knew that security wouldn’t let me make a big show out of walking out with my hands/fist up in the air, celebrating my victory over the g**damn casino, but I knew they knew I was polite, and making the move out of principle.  In fact, the guard gave me a few Customer Satisfaction Survey forms, since they knew I wanted to file the reason for my self-bar from the casino.  So, I just walked by the tables in pit 3 for a last time, said “goodbye” to the dealers (I know them all on a first-name basis), and waved the Self-Exclusion Form in the air.  Everyone in-the-know is familiar with the nuclear option, but I’m sure they’re just a little shocked that I exercised it.

As I walked out of the casino, and through the parking lot for the last time, along the same path I’d followed over a hundred times in the last five months, I breathed in the warm summer afternoon air for the first time.  Usually, I made the walk in the dark, cold hours before dawn, after wasting a day or two at the Spanish 21 table.  With every step, I was feeling free again, and hours later, I would feel immensely grateful for the day.

11 Responses

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  1. Ted said, on September 1, 2009 at 3:25 am

    Great story! Isn’t that how it always ends up, though? They don’t realize that they are in the customer service business. Especially when you are dealing with people’s many, you have to be extraordinarily polite. You made the right move. There are better things to do and better places to gamble.

  2. FoolsGold said, on November 2, 2009 at 6:01 am

    I’m a bit puzzled as to how “advantage play” leads to persistent losing sessions.
    Also puzzled by why you would do it at mnimum bet amounts.

    As to buying a surrender bets, I’m of mixed emotions on that. I do realize that these were either friends or atleast acquaintances with whom you had been sharing your views and who were not opposed to discussions about their style of play, however, I do think the casino has a right to ban such side bets even though the casino’s real motivation is financial rather than player comfort.

    I do not like chatter at the craps table. I do not care for excessive chatter at the blackjack table. If someone knows what they are talking about regarding basic strategy thats fine, otherwise I don’t want to hear chip-ratting or tongue wagging.

    Well, congratulations on your self-ban. I’m sure the dealers regret your action and both the dealers and the players miss you.

  3. stephenhow said, on November 2, 2009 at 8:43 am

    “Advantage play” is in quotes. Low-limit degeneracy and constant toking leads to persistent losing sessions.

  4. FoolsGold said, on November 4, 2009 at 5:11 am

    I have a tendancy to over-toke also. I’ve been dubbed George at many a craps table and a number of BJ dealers have gleefully called out “toking up a black” when I’ve been winning.

    My companion once won several bets on Banker but toked each one all the while motioning for more cards because the Banker hand was not up to 21 yet. And whats more, this being in an Indian casino, she had had to pay for her cocktails.

  5. Overcast said, on November 4, 2009 at 9:36 am

    Hi Stephen,

    I’ve enjoyed reading your site. One question I have concerns Spanish21. Having counted and indulged in other forms of advantage play over the years, I have yet to see a strategy for Spanish21 that pushes the limits on what advantage is possible. I’m thinking a multi-level, true-count adjusted strategy, indices, optimal bet spreads and table departures in negative counts.

    If you are up for the challenge, it might be a cool project.


  6. stephenhow said, on November 4, 2009 at 10:08 am

    I know there’s plenty of +EV in counting BJ or Spanish21, but I look for easier ways to extract EV from a game. That means my attention span and memory are way too short for counting. But, I’ll keep it in mind. Never say never. Thanks for the ideas.

  7. Grumpy said, on May 17, 2012 at 7:26 am

    I loved your story about the rude pit bosses at Sycuan. I had played blackjack at that casino everyday for 2 months 4 hours a day,when I asked for a 10 comp I was told by a tall plain looking female with a hairdo from the 60’s that I did not qualify. I gave her my card and said this is worthless. I did not know about barring yourself. They still send me free play coupons, but I refuse to set foot in that casino again. I used to be a regular at their sports bar,where everyone was great.

  8. Royal_Hunter said, on October 20, 2012 at 9:08 am

    I’m a 12 year AP, and didn’t know about the Self-Bar option. This is a great story and I am going to use this at some point in my playing days, just for fun.

  9. Bill said, on September 30, 2013 at 10:36 pm

    I didn’t self-bar I just stopped playing at Sycuan. I was Elite level so nothing special but certainly not a bottom feeder either. I got tired of rude dealers at craps asking questions like “Why do you buy in with $300 if you’re only going to bet $5?” I was actually betting $5 on the pass plus 2x or 3x odds plus the 6 and 8. I’ve NEVER had another dealer or pit boss ask me a rude question like that. She also asked “Who DOES THAT?” when I put $8 odds when the point was 4. Ridiculous. They also allowed an obvious tweaker to lay the 5 then pace around behind the shooter yelling “Throw a 7!!!”. Never seen that anywhere else either.

    The final straw was when they upgraded my sister’s card to Platinum then a week later downgraded it saying they had made a mistake upgrading her. Turns out the mistake was made 4 months before when they gave bingo players twice as many points as they should have. She tracked her points online and played more at the end of the 6 month period to ensure she got the upgrade only to have it taken away. Again, I’ve never seen that happen anywhere else.

    Piss poor customer service and an overall lack of concern about their customers. Now I’m Platinum at Barona and Gold at Viejas. I figure that Sycuan lost about $200,000/year in overall gambling from me and probably closer to $300,000 total combined from the rest of my family.

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  11. Ashton said, on September 30, 2022 at 4:51 am

    Good readiing

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